Where There is Some Limitation, There is Universality

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Friday, February 18, 1966

Every morning at monastery it says, "In the night—in the darkness, there is brightness, in the brightness there—there is darkness."1 Darkness, you will find in your practice, can be—bring into your life other dark side of—bright side of your life. In that case some limitation is necessary, so we should do various things at right time in adequate way—in some certain way. We cannot mix up things. Things which you should put higher place, you should put it in higher place. The things which you should lower place, you should put lower place.2 This is our way.

Where there is some limitation, there is universality. The universality is not just idea. The universality we mean has a meaning—actual meaning—or we say, validity. Universality must result some actual value. So, when we do some special things, in—in that special activity, we will find universal—universality, as a embodiment of Dharmakaya Buddha, or Buddha. So, when you put something which you should put higher place, you will find out universality in that existence. If you mix up, it means you treat things just as material, you do not find out any value in it. You treat it just material. But when you put it in right way, in right position, there you will find its meaning and value.

So, in our practice, actually, there's no difference between universality and speciality. When you do some special things, you have—you express your Buddha nature there. So, we do not try to escape from this world, this phenomenal world, to some special world. We should find out the true meaning of life in our everyday life. That is our way. If you understand this point, there is no difference between your Zen practice and everyday life. When you practice zazen, without doing anything, just concentrated on your inhaling and exhale, there you have dark side of the tru[th]—reality. You express dark side of reality. But when you do something, it may be said that is bright side of the reality, but actually your activity from one to the other—each of the activities is the same as the practice of Zen, because each practice, in the smallest particle of time, is the same as your long periods of—of practice in cross-legged posture.

You may say "This is short temporal activity," and "This is long period of practice," but actually we don't know which is longer and which is shorter. You cannot compare two—it is the same, it—it has same value, same quality. So, you cannot discriminate which is good or bad—it is same thing. Whether or not you understand it – you—you understand, you find the true meaning of your activity. Each activity is the expression of our true nature. It doesn't different from zazen practice in its true sense.

When you practice Zen, the quality of the practice includes everything, and when you do something, the quality of the activity include everything. So, Dogen Zenji says it is the flashing—temporal flashing into the vast universe. Each activity we take is just a flashing into the universal—into the cosmic reality. So, in this area there is no discrimination, there is no good or bad. But when you understand, when you interpret our activity in—by poor understanding, you may say "Zen is good," but you may say "I should like to practice Zen forever like this" but it is the same thing.

Anyway, if you want to realize what is Buddha Nature, some limitation is necessary. We say absolute freedom, but that absolute freedom does not mean to ignore the value of the things and mix up things. To—to do it, or to make some classification and to do things in right way, in adequate way, is our way. So, we have to pay careful consideration in our activity. Because you think this is just material, so—so you do not treat it carefully. If it is living being, you cannot treat them so carelessly [laughs]. But all the existence is living being—in some form, or in some—with some nature.

So according to the nature, or according to the form, we should treat things as they are. Then we will realize the true meaning of the existence. We are usually—nowadays we are caught by the value of—material value or exchange value, [laughs] so you don’t—do not find—you do not realize its true value—true value of existence. The true value is not just material value or exchange value. When you find beauty in it, when you find necessity in it, when you find truth in it, when you find some good meaning in it, with all those meanings will result—will make the absolute value which we need. The value is not just material value; when you find beauty in it, you cannot put it upside down [laughs]. Even though—even though you put it upside down, it will not be destroyed. It—it has material value [laughs], but if you use it in this way, it is not beautiful anymore.

Even though this is very hard, you cannot drive a nail with it [laughs - perhaps referring to his stick]. Then you will lose the—the beauty of the material. So, this is not just material, it has meaning in it, and it has some way to be used. This kind of consideration is necessary in—in our life. So, accumulation of those careless way of treating things will result a big evil. If you—we, each one of us, treat things in right way, no evil can arise in this world.

So, we cannot force any thought—whether it is Buddhism or Christianity or communism or capitalism—we cannot force any thought over people. Both Christianity and Buddhism is right; communism is not also in the wrong (?)—it has some meaning in it. When you force some special thought, some kind of thought, over people, there we have big [laughs] confusion, because we cannot accept it from bottom of our heart. If you try to treat things with deep consideration, thinking various phases of existence, you cannot treat them just someone's own way. But we have to choose or decide what to do on each moment, we cannot help it; we cannot—we do not have even time to think which is good or bad.

So, in our zazen, a big strength is necessary—or big power is necessary. When it is—when Zen students start to move, you can see the power. But when you do not move, you do not see the power of the Zen—Zen students. But nevertheless, the power is in—in them—in each one of us who can decide what to do at certain time. Something which is moving with a great speed has its—is actually the succession of the point—in each point it has some power to express that great speed. And each point should be Zen [laughs]. We are sitting on each point with big energy. That is Zen. It is still, and it is calm, and—and it is completely peaceful, but that is peaceful power, and peaceful energy—this is our Zen actually. We don't know our power, how great our power is. But when you acquire the complete calmness, there is big power.

So, Zen practice has two faces: one is power, and one is peaceful. One is limitation, and one is universality. When you find out this kind of meaning of your practice, you have nothing to be afraid of. You acquire perpetual life. In this understanding and spirit we have practiced zazen.


1 quoting Sekito's Sandokai.
2 quoting Dogen's Tenzo Kyokun

Transcript from Engage Wisdom, created by Shundo David Haye in 2021. Verbatim version by Peter Ford 3/2022.


File name: 66-02-18: Where There is Some Limitation, There is Universality (titled by SDH) (Verbatim) Transcript and title, SDH 10/21. Lecture date is approximate.

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